Class Sizes, Career Prep, STEM Would Benefit

On May 2, voters in the Kent ISD region will be asked to approve a 0.9 mill tax for local school districts, generating $211 per student to maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. School News Network is offering information on what the millage means for each of the 20 districts in the Kent ISD. Today we focus on Kenowa Hills Public Schools. SNN spoke with Superintendent Gerald Hopkins.

How much revenue would your district gain from the millage in the first year?
About $633,000, based on a projected enrollment of approximately 3,000 students.

What would you spend that increased revenue on, and how would this help your students?
Short-term, the millage would enable the district to continue current academic programs and extracurricular activities, Hopkins said. It would also stabilize and, over time, reduce class sizes that have become “uncomfortably large,” he said.

In addition, a yes vote would support science, technology, engineering and math programs in elementary schools, and career training in middle and high schools, Hopkins said. “We have plans to address some of the needs of our local employers to prepare our students for (job) experiences right out of high school,” he added. “This enhancement millage will help us implement those plans.”

Over its 10-year life, the millage also would fund increased community-based services such as social workers, counselors and a nurse, building on the success of the Kent School Services Network at Alpine Elementary, he said: “We want our other families to experience those benefits as well.”

If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year?
“What it could mean is not being able to expand some of the things we’re planning to expand,” such as increased STEM programming and classroom materials, Hopkins said. The district may also have to increase class sizes, and ask families to pay more for students’ sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities, he said.

“The last thing we want to do is turn people away from or cut extracurriculars,” he stressed. “It’s those extracurriculars that for many of our students help them stay grounded and connected to why they’re here in the first place.”

Implementing pay-to-play is one way the district has managed to deal with shrinking resources, Hopkins noted. The district receives less per-pupil state aid today, at $7,519, than it did in 2008-09 with $7,622, he said. Had the district received cost-of-living increases each year, it would have nearly $4 million more today in revenue, he said.

“That’s a business model for disaster,” he argued. “A business wouldn’t survive if it was stuck at its revenue eight years ago, while at the same time the cost of living increased annually.”

Despite the continuing budget squeeze, the district has made innovations such as its new Knights STEM Academy and a middle college program, in which 37 students have graduated with college associate’s degrees at a tuition savings of $1.25 million, he said.

What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response?
Hopkins said he’s not yet heard objections, but expects he may get questions about why the millage is needed after district voters just approved a $55 million bond issue last spring. He will explain the bond issue could only go toward capital improvements such as roofs and security, but the enhancement millage can be used for instruction or any other need. “Every single dollar goes to our district to be used based on the community and district priorities, and based on the educational experience of our students,” he said.


Kenowa Hills Information about Enhancement Millage

Strong Schools, Strong Communities

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.


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